Posts Tagged 'travel'



Spring Break ’03 Part 3: Massage Chairs

I actually thought about vegging out here with the massage chairs (as alluded to in my previous entry), but something about the private massage chair stalls and the rack of pornographic comic books gave me the creeps. Instead, R and I went to the local electronics store and vegged out there. Unfortunately, amid the mechanical kneading and prodding, we did something to our backs. Both of us woke up stiff and in pain. Fortunately, R’s mother — whose something of a health fiend — had already scheduled appointments at her favorite shiatsu masseuse. He told me I have a slight twist in my lower spine and that’s the cause of my frequent lumbar consternation. I can’t say I’m 100 percent but after being pushed and bended for a half-hour while listening to “Groove Is In The Heart” at least I can get up from a chair without grimacing.

R and I spent most of yesterday and today with her mom. Last night, she took us out to what I guess could be described as a Country Buffet for the Macrobiotic set, featuring all you can eat brown rice, pickled daikon, and udon noodles. I must say that I’m getting along famously with R’s family, which is a refreshing change from the past. Previous encounters with the parents of previous girlfriends gave me the distinct impression that they viewed me about as favorably as, say, soiled diapers.

Yesterday, R bought me a pair of Levis with look quite fetching on me. Clearly this style is only sold in Japan because the largest waist size for this make is a 33. After years of being banished to the young mens section for having a waist size smaller than a 38, it’s nice to be on the larger end of the girth spectrum. I also bought a hair gel called “Nudy” which promised that “I will never want to buy another product again.” I purchased it thinking that if it lived up to its promise, it might rid me forever of my compulsive consumerism and save me thousands of dollars a year. I’m hopeful.

In other news, Michael Moore’s Oscar award rant is big news here. His gleefully hectoring “Shame on you, Mr. Bush,” looped ad nauseum.

Well, tomorrow R and I are off to Tokyo. More news later…

Spring Break Part ’03 Part 2: Chimpy

Hello all. I’m back in my computer geek mini-resort of a cyber-bar. I just realized that this place features free lattes, free razors in the bathroom and for an additional fee massage chairs. I’m half expecting to find a sauna and a hot tub combo somewhere around here.

First a few observations…

1) The Japanese really hate our beloved president, Chimpy McCokespoon. This is subtlely evident in the pictures the media selects to represent him. One pic, which served as a backdrop for a round table of talking heads, featured Bush with his mouth wide open, his beady eyes pushed together under a furroughed brow and his ape-like finger waggling at the camera, making him look both dim and bullying. Another pic for a similar talk show, featured a picture of Bush looking like a colicky baby just after a bowel movement.

2) Daihatsu has released a box shaped car inexplicably named “Naked.”

And now for the travel log…

The day for yesterday, R’s dad took me and R to his favorite sushi joint and proceeded to fill me with more raw fish than Shamu consumes in a week. We seemed to hit it off. He embarrassed R to no end by peppering his conversation with English like “I’m sorry,” “This is sushi” and the like. Yesterday, we went to Mount Aso which is not only the highest peak in Kyushu but also the largest volcanic crater in the world (or so I’m told). It belched up green fumes of sulphur which I heard usually smells much worse than it did. Then we went to Kumamoto’s castle, which was featured in Kurosawa’s Kagemusha. The outside was quite impressive though the inside was remodeled to look something like a Stalinist era library. Later that night, we were met by R’s mom — who was suffering from an ugly cold — and we went to the famed Iron Chief loser’s restaurant located in the basement of the Kumamoto Castle Hotel. The dinner was a bit uneven I did have some of the best squid I ever had there. Light, fluffy and not in the slightest chewy.

Anyway for the rest of today, I’m going to forget about the Oscars and the War and maybe veggie out in front of the computer while being kneaded by a massage chair…

Spring Break ’03 Part 1: Kumamoto

Hello all. I’m fighting a wave of jet-lag related stupor in an Internet cafe in Kumamoto, which sports not only wall-to-wall computers and free green tea, but also racks of comic books, DVDs and a CDs to rent and burn. It’s sort of a home away from home for the computer geek on the go…

Anyway, in spite of the Bush’s evil little war, I managed to get here in one piece. I flew out on Varig — Brazil’s national airline. The company seems to operate on a distinctly latin sense of time because the plane arrived two hours late into Narita and no one seemed particularly bothered or concerned by this. I had to catch a flight from Haneda — Tokyo’s domestic airport — located a good 60 km away. After racing through customs, I was about to board my shuttle when Morimoto from the Iron Chef strode by– sporting a baseball cap and a sumo wrestler’s swagger. I arrived with less than a hour to spare at Haneda, which little did I know, suffered from a massive computer crash that morning. The place reminded me of a train station in India — total chaos. Somehow, I managed get on my flight near a toddler who spent the entire two hour flight screaming and puking.

When I met at the airport by R and her father, I was told that on Sunday we all would go out to a restaurant whose owner famously lost on the Iron Chef. Already this trip is baring the twin themes of panic and the Iron Chef. Stay tuned to see how this plays out…

Existential World Tour Part 13: Berlin and Back in Ann Arbor

Well, its the end of the road for me. I went West until it was East and I kept goin’ until I ended up back where I started. In short, I’m back in Ann Arbor, back with a vengeance.

I’ve been lying low in Prague for the past two weeks. I spent my time walking around, looking at Prague’s stunning, spooky and occasionally bizarre architecture, and of course drinking beer, which is literally cheaper than water and damn good to boot.

Last weekend, I went to Berlin. On Halloween night, I happened upon a bombed out (as in from WWII) department store that had been turned into a artist commune. The bottom floor was a disco and a welders studio, the second floor was a bar and movie theater (showing From Dusk till Dawn) and the rest of the building was either gallery space and/or other discos. The whole place was covered with graffiti art and the apocalyptic look of Blade Runner or a Duran Duran video. Across the courtyard in another bombed out building (there were lot in this neighbor of East Berlin, even though it was only blocks from Unter Den Linden and the Brandenburg gate) somebody placed a giant neon sign in puffy rainbow letters reading “Cry me a River.” I loved the place immediately. I started talking to some Anglo backpackers and soon we were doing Tequila shots. Later I found myself discussing Japanese film with a couple intense Belgians well into the morning. Anyway, I realized that after a liter and a half of beer and five shots of Tequila I felt stone sober. I think its time to go home now, I thought.

Soon checking into Betty Ford

Existential Panic World Tour Part 12: New Russians not Nude Russians

Howdy all, I’ve safety navigated myself out of Russia and now aside from some minor liver damage, I’m relaxing comfortably in Prague.

Current Russian joke: A guy walks into a bank and says to the teller, “Hello, I have $10,000 and I’m interested in opening an account. Who should I talk to about this?” The teller responds, “a psychiatrist.”

Anyhow, last week in our waning few days in Yoshkar-Ola, my mom threw a party for her friend and my banya-buddy Andrey. He invited many of Mari-El republic’s high-rollers and held the fest at Onar, the hoidiest toidiest joint in the region. The interior of Onar looked like a bottom rung casino from Ratpack-era Vegas. The walls were painted a ridiculous color of purple with frescos of obese cherubs painted in pastels on the ceiling. Elsewhere were bushels of fake ivy, stone wall covering and lots and lots of mirrors. Robert Ventura would have had a field day here. The place was clearly designed to impress, and hence has become a place known throughout the town as being a meeting place for a ecently emerging tribe of post-communists called “New Russians.”

Back in the Halcyon days of the early 90s, a New Russian was synonymous with ‘yuppie’–a newly affluent individual who wore Reeboks and Swatchs, drove foreign cars and enjoyed pizza. Now as Ruble drops like a stone, and as the prospect of simply getting a paycheck on time is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence here, the New Russians have been coded as if not out and out ‘mafia’ then the ugly rich. While several of the people my mother interviewed have not been paid in four or five months, apartment buildings are being thrown up along the river with enough garish opulence to embarrass a Romanov. One New Russian that we rented our apartment from (a really big apartment by Russian standards though without the Romanesque arches and onion domes of those newer models), was a short balding guy named Victor who bore a passing resemblance to Lenin. Though he’s a ‘sexologist’ (shudder) by trade, he seems to have number of side ventures which neither of us really wanted to know about. Last year when my mother was researching in Yoshkar-Ola, Victor offered her a plastic handgun. “For your protection’ he said. Another New Russian is a good friend of Andrey’s and one of my banya-comrades–a squat guy with a flat top and a Stalinesque mustache named Volodya, or as everyone calls him, Volodya the Sausage King, because, as his name would suggest, he made his fortune by stuffing ground pig parts into intestines.

At this fest, Comrade Sausage Czar was there along with his bitter, stricken-looking wife who spent the night drinking heavily and rebuffing her husband’s clumsy attempts at cuddling. Also there were a couple of other guys I had previously seen nekkid at the banya, and a number of teachers at the local university. The vodka flowed, the champaign was guzzled and the food just kept coming and coming and coming. Around 8 o’clock two guys and a synthesizer came out and struck up a tune. I was about to comment on how bad the music (it sounded like bad karaoke) when Andrey leaned over to me and said, “These musicians are good friends of mine. You like?” I nodded and held my tongue. At the end of the first set, the lead singer said (translated through Andrey) “And now a song dedicated to our new American friends.” He gesticulated vaguely at us and then began a really tinny version of Lionel Richie’s early 80s mega-hit “Hello.” Several older men with their suspiciously young spandex clad dates began slow dancing at the center of the hall. Later, after much more vodka and champaignski, the dancing girls came out clad in ostrich feathers, thongs and little else and gyrated.

Sadly, I had to miss much of this cultural performance, I had an appointment to go out dancing at another New Russian haunt called “Holiday.” My comrades-in-boogie were three of the five ex-pat Americans living in Mari-El: Donna, a very tall very blond English teacher; David, a garrulous lawyer also teaching there; and Jennifer, his astonishingly young blushing bride. David, in particular, has a murky mysterious past. Judging from what he told me in his long yarns about himself, he was at various points in his life–a film student, a bouncer, an army cadet, a tai-chi master, a CIA agent and worst of all, a lawyer. His Russian was, apparently, perfect. Upon arriving at the club, David directed my attention to the pair of armed guards standing at the door and noted that the nightsticks they were carrying had a hard plastic casing with a core of cork and a steel spring. “They’re leg-breakers, man,” he said with a certain lusty enthusiasm. He also reminded me that the club’s entry fee was equivalent to one fifth of the average workers monthly salary. (That is when and if they get paid.)

The club was relatively crowded, very smokey and decorated with a lot of chain-link fencing. The music was largely cheesy but cloyingly catchy Euro techno with the occasional Elton John song thrown in. Once they played the “Laura Palmer Theme” from Twin Peaks. Leather definitely seems to be the material of choice for women’s fashion–leather minis, tight leather pants, high leather boots. Most of the guys wore either leather jackets or ill-fitting suits. I danced some and drank a lot more. Again, Russia is a macho culture. If someone places a glass of vodka in your hands and says “Drink up friend,” you drink or suffer a reputation of being a wimp.

As the night wore on, some of the people from the Onar party drifted into the night club including Andrey, who looked completely out of his element. Though the man can drink Yeltsin under the table, he dances like the Twin Peaks’ dream dwarf. Volodya the Sausage King also showed up, but instead of his embittered wife, he was there with a blond balloon-breasted, er, companion who spent the evening sitting on his lap, giggling and playing with his mustache.

I staggered home around four thirty in the morning, with a group of Russians and Donna and I promptly crashed.

The next day, I managed to crawl out of bed and go to the market with my mom in spite of a killer headache. There I saw, in sharp contrast to decadence of the night before, an old woman with gnarled hands selling a half dozen beets spread out on a blanket on the sidewalk for the equivalent of a nickel. Further on I saw a guy in his 30s selling plastic sheeting. I was told that many factories are so far behind in their paychecks that they have started paying workers in the wares the factories produce. I was also told that the major bank in Yoshkar-Ola has frozen all accounts due to the instability of the Ruble. I really have no idea how the average Russian makes ends meet. I also wonder why there hasn’t yet been blood in the streets or what might happen in Russia’s increasingly murky future. When my mom asked one of the people she’s interviewing, someone who hasn’t been paid for six months, he shrugged said, “I am optimistic for the future, I have to be.” Meanwhile Victor, the plastic pistol packing sexologist is thinking about buying a flat at one of the new New Russian complexes for $200,000.

PS LATE BREAKING NEWS: It’s official. My global romp will be ending on Nov. 6. The tickets have been bought, and limo and dancing girls hired.

Existential Panic World Tour Part 11: Sweaty Naked Men

I’m realizing that this trip to Russia not really much of a tourist excursion. For one thing, there ain’t a whole lot to see here in the hinterland. Instead, this is an exercise in Russian cultural immersion. This became particularly evident on the car ride from Kazan to Yoshkar-Ola, when our burly contact here, Andrey, turned to me and asked in his thickly accented English if I’d ever been to a Russian Banya. “A Russian Barnyard?” I asked. A Banya is basically a sauna but its social significance is much more. The Banya is apparently one of the social lubricants that makes society flow. Like Japanese after-work drinking secession or the American tailgate party, it is a time when men are allowed to cast aside their societal roles and carouse like equals with their brethren.

When I mentioned to other Russians and the handful of American ex-pats living here that I was scheduled for such a banya, inevitability their reaction insinuated that I was really going to be in for something. On Monday, Andrey and a driver (Andrey refuses to learn to drive for some reason) picked me up, picked up an armful of alcohol, and then drove to a soccer field. The banya was a small wooden shack built on the edge of the grounds. Apparently, Andrey and a bunch of his buddies from Mari State University gather at this unremarkable hut and “relax.” Andrey pounded on the metal door for sometime before a squat naked man with a remarkably hairy back answered the door. Inside about a dozen middle-aged men were stripping naked, all of them looked like David Crosby or Wilfred Brimley. It was not a pretty sight. Andrey asked me if I wanted a beer before the sauna. I promptly said yes. After the beer and after I stripped, Andrey lead me to the sauna. Upon opening the door I was confronted with the sight of two naked very sweaty men flogging themselves with birch-branches. “It is kind of Russian massage” Andrey said to me. Ok, I thought. I sat in the sauna, allowed myself to slow cook in the intense heat of the room and followed suit with everyone else and began flogging myself with said foliage. (It feels like getting molested by a shrub.) The manly thing to do is to sit there swatting yourself until you have been so cooked your ears begin to curl. I was never quite that gung-ho. Then, with ears curled, the next thing you do to test your macho metal is to plunge into an icy cold pool of water in the next room. It’s kind of like daring your cardiovascular system to have a heart attack. Another variation is to leap, buck naked, into a snow drift and roll around while. Though it’s blasted cold out, there is, as of yet, nary a snow drift. So my banya-comrades made do with standing outside, naked, smoking cigarettes. We would sit around, make crude jokes, slap backs and make statements like “In Russia, men are men and women are women.” Yes, this was male bonding at its most raw and naked (literally). All that was absent was the drums and the Robert Bly books.

After continuing with the grueling sauna, ice water, exposure rotation, I was already feeling a bit buzzed. But no Russian adventure would be complete without the vodka. We all gathered around a buffet of sorts that a couple of the boys had set up. Handing me a glass of vodka (shots are for wimps) Andrey leaned over to me and said, “Russian proverb…After banya you can sell your pants but you must drink.” I asked him to repeat it, just to make sure I heard that right. I have no idea what this pearl of folk widsom actually means (especially considering no one in the room was wearing pants) but I took it as a subtle hint that I should be prepared for some serious drinking. After a toast, they knocked the entire contents of the glass back, as did I. Then another toast and another half glass. There was an impress array of food on the table before me, sauerkraut, bread, honey, olives and of course a big plate of lard. My banya-mates were somewhat perplexed why I wasn’t partaking in what they considered a staple food, but in my mind a line needed to be drawn. I would get naked, I would be happy to parboil and then freeze myself, and I’d be happy to suck down as excessive about of alcohol, but dammit I was not going to eat a chunk of lard. Moreover, seeing Andrey naked and hairy gnawing on a huge chunk of fat will be one of those traumatic images (if only on an aesethetic level) that will stay with me for a long, long time.

As weird as the experience was, though, I found myself actually having fun. And after two more half-glasses of vodka, I found that I was having a whiz-bang of a time. The final toast was to me, for being the sole intrepid American in this uniquely Russian experience. I counter-toasted them for making my banya-going something I won’t soon forget. And then I knocked back all the vodka in one gulp. Andrey said to me in a grave earnest tone, “you drink like a Russian.” I took that as a compliment.

Of course, after four glasses of vodka and three beers I wasn’t merely drunk, sloshed or plastered. I was out of my tiny head. When I arrived home, mom in true Russian tradition was making Borsch. She was also entertaining Donna, a very tall very blonde college student teaching English here and Shirley, the peevish wife of a missionary computer-programmer. (His life project is to make an electronic Bible in Russian with annotations. Yes, clearly what Russia need more than a viable political system, improved health care and a functional infrastructure is an electronic Bible in Russian with annotations.) I staggered into the kitchen, said something unintelligible I’m sure, and then promptly passed out in my bedroom. It wasn’t yet 6 O’clock at night. Later that night, Andrey called. When mom informed him that I was in a vodka coma, we replied with surprise saying, “But we didn’t drink that much.”

That night I felt like I had seen though the stereotypes to glimpse at the real Russia. And perhaps I saw more than I wanted to.

Existential Panic World Tour Part 10: Kazan

I’m in Yoshkar-ola in deepest darkest Russia. We took off for Russia from Frankfurt on Thursday. When we boarded our plane bound for Kazan, capital of Tartarstan, but were airily informed that the Kazan airport was mysteriously closed and that we might have to land in Perm at the base of the Ural mountains. That’s a bit like boarding a plane bound for Detroit and having it land in St. Louis. Fortunately, about 30 minutes before we did land we were told that the Kazan airport had re-opened. As we descended, my first impression of Russia was that it looked like a massive unrelenting expanse of Ohio. This place is crushingly, overwhelming flat. The horizon seems to exert a strange gravity upon the architecture which no matter how tall seems squat and insignificant in comparison with the flatness of the land.

We were met at Kazan by some one named Sveltlana. Through her job, my mother has made a number of connections throughout the country. Most feel a certain degree of obligation to her, after all, it was her job to recruit Russian scholars and once in Bowling Green Ohio acquaint them to American life by finding them an apartment, securing grant money etc. Thus Sveltlana, a kind, well-meaning but naive person, met us at the airport and arranged for us to stay at the home of a Russian family for the night.

Though the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992, Russia remains an empire of sorts. Within its vast expanses lies numerous “autonomous republics.” where specific ethnic groups reside. The most famous and troubled one is Chechnya. Fortunately, Tartarstan and the Mari-El Republic (where Yoshkar-Ola is) is less eager to spurn Russian control and start a bloody guerrilla war. Nonetheless, I found people, particularly in Tartarstan, were much more eager to identify themselves as Tartars than as Russians. The identification is with one’s ethnicity rather than with one’s nationality.

The next day we walked around the center of Kazan see the sights. Unfortunately, it were was a fierce wind along with some snow. Before I left the States, we packed several boxes full of winter clothes to Prague. The boxes, of course, did actually arrive until the day after my mother and I left for here. Fortunately I had enough sense to buy a $6 thick wool sweater in Nepal along with a $9 “North Face” jacket that was probably lovingly crafted by slave labor in Northern India. Kazan seemed to be in the midst of a building frenzy. Much of the construction seems to be directed towards undoing what the Soviets did, like reconstructing churches that were either actively destroyed by the Communists or through willful neglect. They are even reconstructing a large Mosque that was burned to the ground by Ivan the Terrible. I was somewhat disappointed with Kazan because a) most of the sights were in the process of reconstruction and b) in all of Tartarstan I saw nary a fishstick.

The next day, Andrey–mom’s primary contact here in Yoshka-Ola–picked us up in a shiny black Russia car, the kind you see KGB agents drive in the movies. To further the image, he was wearing a black leather trench coat. Andrey is a massive individual, with a thick ZZ Top style beard, a large gut and hands the size of hub caps. He looks like, if the situation required it, he could strangle a horse.

This afternoon I’m supposed to go to a Russia Banya with him as my mother continues her research. A Banya is a Russia spa, which I’m told entails lots of Vodka, birch branches, saunas and lots of nudity. Stay tuned…

Existential Panic World Tour Part 9: Off to Russia

This is going to be a regrettably short entry. In about six hours I’m heading off to airport for Russia and I haven’t really started packing. The primary object of this potentially wild and woolly trip is to aid my mother with her PhD dissertation research. Basically for carrying some bags and taking a few notes I get a free trip to exciting Russia. Of course, Russia seems to be getting more exciting by the day. The exchange rate there is fluctuating so rapidly that the State department is advising travelers not to change money into Rubles unless one plans make a purchase within the hour of the transaction. Moreover, a general nation wide strike is scheduled for October 7th. Yup, this is indeed going to be an interesting trip.

First we land in Kazan, the capital of Tartarstan, and stay there for two nights. Then Andrey, our burly contact, will meet us and drive us to Yoshkar-ola the capital of the Mari-El Republic (which is about 1000 miles north of Iran) where we will spend most of our time. Then on the 13th we’re off for Moscow on an 18 hour train. With luck, I’ll be back on the 16th to recount my experiences.

Anyhow, stay tuned.

Existential Panic World Tour Part 6: Stripping for rhinos

I’m back in the noise and the stench of Kathmandu. I found that ten days worth of rotting garbage has accumulated a block from my hotel giving the whole neighbor some added ‘atmosphere.’ The garbage men are apparently on strike.

Anyway, about nine days ago I boarded a tourist mini-van bound for Chitwan a massive national park that boasts a sundry of wildlife including rhinos, sloth-bears, crocodiles and allegedly tigers. The park is located on Nepal’s southern boarder where the Himalayas level into the Indian plain. Tour agencies around Nepal advertise jungle safaris into said park and enthusiastically play up all the cliches associated with “the jungle.” Lodges with names like ‘Tiger tops’, ‘Wild Safari’ and ‘Tarzan hotel’ are seen repeatedly in the tourist literature. So with the theme song of Raiders of the Lost Ark playing in my head, and a massive can of bug repellent in my bag I ventured out of Kathmandu valley and onto the open road.

Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the ‘open road’ was in fact closed due to a massive landslide. The population of the bus waited for about three hours at a truck stop. I ate a suspicious-looking omelette as I listened to a lantern-jawed Brit, Steve, and an Argentine who looked like Chris Farley rant about how terrible India was. We mused on whether Indiana Jones ever has troubles with landslides or indeed explaining the concept of travelers checks to a particularly dense bank teller, having flight delays or even getting a bad case of the shits from a cheese sandwich. As the hours drew on Steve the Brit grew impatient and lead a revolt against the bus driver. The driver wanted to hang out at the truck stop with his buddies. We, having met a number of people who have been waylaid at the truck stop for several days, wanted be driven to the sight of the landslide and fend for ourselves.

Since this was the only paved road that connected the East part of Nepal with the West, the crowd of buses, trucks and people stretched for at least 4 kilometers. The landslide itself was feverishly being worked on by four guys with two gas-powered back-hoes. One person operated the machine while the other doused the engine with water to keep it from overheating. After an hour, the road was clear enough to allow pedestrian traffic to pass. There was still a good sized pile of earth there though and there was ever the possibility that one of many large rocks could come down and brain some witless by-stander. Nonetheless, two days worth of foot traffic was determined to get through, including myself and Steve, the lanterned-jawed Brit. The clamor and crush of humanity recalled WWII documentaries of Chinese peasants fleeing their villages. People carrying huge bags pushing and shoving their way through. Later, after walking for about 10 km, we got a ride on a local bus that had the misfortune of getting not one but two successive flat tires. All told, it took 14 hours to get to a place that was supposed to take 5. Other people I met later had an even more harrowing time of it. One Japanese guy I met said he rafted down a river that paralleled the main road and then hitched a ride on top of a gas truck.

The next day, the first activity of the package was the jungle walk. Soon after we boarded hollowed out canoes across a river that demarcated the park’s boundary, the guide gathered us at the river’s bank and said in a tense whisper, “What I’m going to tell you could save your life.” He ran down the different methods needed to evade an attack by one of the park’s many large scary creatures.

If a rhino charges, one is to:

a) climb a tree

b) if that’s impossible run circles around a tree

c) if there are no trees run in zig-zags

and d) if all else fails strip.

Rhinos have terrible eyesight but an excellent sense of smell. The scent of one’s inevitably sweat-drenched shirt, pants or whatever might just confuse the Rhino into attacking the garment. With the Tiger, one simply stares into the Tiger’s eyes and walks away slowly. An inopportune sneeze basically will make you lunch. As he was saying this, I noticed that the only weapon he had was a smallish bamboo pole. Nary a stun-gun, dart-gun, pepper-stray can, cattle-prod, or lawn dart to be had. Just the pole.

More fun Rhino facts:

1) The African Rhino has two horns, the Asian has one.

2) They always deficate in the same location.

3) Mating for the rhino last 3 to 4 hours. During that time the female continues to walk about and graze as the male is, um, riding along.

Much of the hike was spent either walking through ankle deep mud or dashing into bushes. We saw a number of monkeys, some hog-deer, a rare bird that I’ve never heard of, and tiger tracks. But up until the last hour of the hike I saw nothing that would justify the images of Indiana Jones in my head. Until the guide signaled us to be quiet as we crawled towards a large hulking form that he said was a rhino. As I crept closer, I had one foot pointed in the opposite direction and I was ready to run zig-zags, strip or flap my arms and sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” if the situation required it. The rhino did charge but fortunately in the opposite direction.

Next activity was the elephant ride, which was much more pleasant. Four of us climbed the great creatures and off we went galoomphing along. The ride was quite pleasant. There is no natural animosity between rhinos and elephants so we sauntered right up to several without the traumatic stress of the jungle walk. We tramped through the high amber grass of the park and the scene looked almost African. Rhinos grazing, exotically shaped trees, and mud huts in the distance. Beautiful. The cadence of the elephant’s stride, though does leaves one feeling a bit like the victim of a bad chiropractor, however.

Anyway, the next day, I boarded another bus for Pokhara where I was to begin my trek. Stay tuned…

Existential Panic World Tour Part 5: The News In Brief

I’m back from my six day trek around the Annapurnas. My legs are so sore that I’m hobbling around like Captain Ahab and my clothes smell like a Taiwanese nightmarket but somehow I survived. I’ll write all about it once I get to a web server that isn’t run by a bunch of mouth-breathing weasels as this one in the resort town of Pokhara is. I’ll be back in Kathmandu in a couple days where I will recount my adventures with rhinos, vertigo and bootleg videos. However, I have culled an actual article from the September 8th issue of the Kathmandu Post to whet your appetites. I did not make this up:

YAK BLOOD CARNIVAL ENDS

MUSTANG, Sept 7 (RSS)–An annual carnival of drinking yak blood, unique to Marche and Muli villages in this district, concluded here recently with the participation of 20,000 carnivalists.

On the occasion, the carnivalists from Baglung, Myagdi and Mustang districts participated in the rituals in which about 500 yaks were slaughtered.

There is a popular belief here that drinking yak blood is a remedy for gastrique, blood pressure and gastric diseases and many other diseases.

However, it is felt that health [sic] of the yak should be checked properly before they are consigned to the rituals; for drinking the blood of an unhealthy yak may transmit various diseases to humans.

Words of widsom indeed.


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